by Amy Lemieux
“The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”
– William Pollard
I say it all the time; I got the kids I did because had they been born living up to my expectations, I would have been an insufferable know-it-all. Prior to parenthood, I had a clear vision of how my family would be. Having no siblings, my means of comparison were The Brady Bunch, the Von Trapp family and the fun family of ten across the street. Degrees in all things “child” and years of teaching experience followed by a first born who was an “easy” baby only added to my sense of power as a parent, imagining our future beautifully packaged and tied with a bright shiny bow.
My smugness was contagious and my husband caught it. We would pat each other on the back thinking, “We have nailed this parenting thing. If people just did it the RIGHT way…” For eighteen blissful months we were easily able to stick with those self-imposed “always” and “nevers” childless people tell themselves. “I will always meet his needs.” “I will never impose a rule without a reasonable explanation.” “I will never rely on a screen.” “I will never raise my voice.” We paraded around with our plump, freshly bathed baby, superior in our parental aptitude.
Clearly, our seamless transition into parenthood was attributable to our amazing skill and intuition combined with staying abreast of the latest research. And since we were so awesome at this, we plowed ahead with number two… Just when you think you have all the answers, the test questions change.
Eighteen months and one baby later, our lives were turned upside down. Baby two was colicky, lactose intolerant, and had reflux. We maintained our composure for about seventy-two hours. After three days sleep of deprivation for the entire family, failed attempts at feeding, vomit-soaked clothes and constant screaming (mostly, but not only the baby) things got real. Suddenly, my husband, who used to be “the perfect dad,” became an inept, drooling idiot who could not complete the simplest of baby-related tasks. My own parenting skills went out the window and tempers flared. My self-image as a mom was shattered, along with the idyllic family life we thought we had created.
I wish I could say that things quickly turned around and everything went back to normal, but the reality is that chaos, disorder and discord became our new normal for many months. Those months were awful, but my lesson was fairly immediate; I was delusional in attributing our son’s contented disposition to our fabulous parenting. Once we figured out our daughter’s medical issues, she stopped screaming and started sleeping. I was almost tricked into falling back into self-righteousness, but then our son quit napping and we began what was only our second of many rounds of ”survival parenting.”
Suddenly, I was a vehement defender of anyone whose kids virtually kicked them between the eyes, and will still go on the offensive with parents who are…just like I used to be. “Yes, Rachel. We have explained to him that he should wear clothes when we have company, but he’s two and loves to be naked. Maybe you’d be less uptight if you tried it his way.” I would not dismiss the importance of good parenting, but life has shown me that kids are born a certain way.
Thinking my second, third or fourth will be the same as my first is now funny. Thinking what worked last year will still work today is futile. Today it is the youngest who is our biggest challenge. My older kids frequently tell us that we aren’t strict enough with her. They, too, are of the belief that parents hold the power. And they haven’t tried to raise children yet.
The lessons keep coming and there is no end in sight. Kids throw curve balls and children growing up with the same parents are very different from each other and different than they were a few months ago. Parents are always many steps behind. Just last week, moments after telling my friends how well my kids were doing, the principal called.